Moscow region, Sergiev Posad, Lavra, Academy

Church of the Protection of the Mother of God

Under the protection of Saint Sergius...

The Moscow Theological Academy first opened within the walls of the Sergiev Monastery on the feast of Pokrov (Protection) , October 1, 1814. Since then, that day had always been distinguished by a special solemnity. After a Liturgy was celebrated in one of the Lavra churches, the Academy's Main Auditorium hosted an event where the rector of the Academy gaves a speech and listed students, where the best received awards.

During the first half-century of its stay in the Lavra, the Academy did not have its own church. Prayers, All-Night Vigils and other services that can be performed outside a consecrated church, usually took place in the Academy's Main Auditorium. Divine Liturgy on Sundays and holidays was celebrated in the Lavra churches by the Academy brotherhood, which always had many monastic and white clergy. During the Fall and Winter services were held in the warm refectory church in honor of St. Sergius, and from Bright Week until Fall - in the Dormission Cathedral. In the spring time it was very cold in the cathedral, so the brotherhood had to settle for the early Liturgy in the smaller churches of the Lavra. The Academy clergy, in agreement with the Lavra, determined which church the Divine Liturgy was to be held in, who would attend it, and so on. Regardless of the weather, the students walked in pairs to the beginning of the Divine Service under the leadership of the inspectorate (since the middle of the 19th century, a paired procession had not been practiced anymore). Sometimes the whole academic family gathered in the small Smolensk church.

Due to the many inconveniences associated with this way of doing services, a house church of its own for the Academy was proposed. The first to make such a proposal was Archimandrite Eusebius (Orlinsky), Rector, who headed the Academy from 1841 to 1847. But Metropolitan Philaretus (Drozdov) did not see the need for a separate academic church. He used to say that there were enough churches in the Lavra to pray in already.

...and the Heavenly Queen

The Academy received its own church only under Metropolitan Innocent (Veniaminov). The question of a house church was raised by friend of the aforementioned Archimandrite Eusebius his classmate Rector Archpriest Alexander Gorsky, who headed the Moscow Theological Academy from October 23, 1862 until his death on October 11, 1875. Father Alexander obtained the consent, on the one hand, of Metropolitan Innocent for the consideration of the Academic Church, and on the other hand, of the honorary overseer of the Academy Alexei Vasilyevich Tolokonnikov for the establishment of the church by his own means. Now it was necessary to choose a place of the future place of worship. The most convenient would have been the Hall of Examinations, but its planning allowed to arrange an altar only on the south. In order to avoid this inconvenience it was decided to use a part of the Professor's Building for the church, in which the altar could be arranged directly to the east, in the direction of the present Library. However a reconstruction of the Professor's Building for the church required large expenses, which the Tolokonnikov could not agree to. It was clear that a return to the previous idea of adapting the Hall for the church was inevitable, and there was only one unresolved question - the possibility of placing the altar in the south, not the east. Archpriest Alexander Gorsky talked about this with Metropolitan Innocent and received a blessing from him to arrange the church with its altar facing south. The Metropolitan believed that "it is necessary to adapt to what conditions you have in existing buildings".

The next task was to decide on how to organize the church itself. On April 1, 1869, a note written by the hereditary honorary citizen Alexei Tolokonnikov was submitted to the Academy Board, in which he expressed his desire to arrange an Academic Church at his own expense, with the blessing of the Moscow Metropolitan. The note of A. V. Tolokonnikov was accompanied by a drawing of the altar of the future temple, made by the Academy's architect Gushchin. The Board of the Academy, for its part, made a presentation to Metropolitan Innocent on April 2 of the same year, where there were listed the inconveniences associated with the absence of the Academy's own church. In particular, it was pointed out that students stand among the people and with a large congregation of pilgrims, the must tolerate tightness, supervision over them for the academic superiors is very difficult and the time of worship, appointed by the monastic leadership, is not always compatible with the educational requirements of the Academy. In this petition, the Metropolitan was also asked:

  • to consecrate the church in honor of the Protection of the Theotokos in memory of the opening of the Academy after moving to the Lavra on October 1, 1814;
  • allow the church to have two to four priests from the Academy mentors, besides the rector of the Church, who may also be the rector of the Academy;
  • to have one or two deacons from the students in the church; in the event of a shortage of deacons, to invite some from the Lavra or from the parish churches of Sergiev Posad;
  • to assign to jobs of the acolytes, cantors and readers to the students.

This document was signed by the rector of the Academy Archpriest Alexander Gorsky, inspector Archimandrite Michael (Luzin) and professor Archpriest Philaretus Sergievsky. The project presentation was signed by the secretary E. V. Amfitheatrov.

On April 14, 1869 the Holy Synod issue a decree to organize a house church in the Moscow Theological Academy. It took little time to construct the temple, as it was only necessary to adapt the Hall for the church and build an altar. By the beginning of 1870 the work was completed.

The fulfillment of hope

Metropolitan Innocent commissioned the consecration of the church to the Most Reverend Ignatius (Rozhdestvensky), Bishop of Mozhaisk. The academic board kindly asked to consecrate the church on February 12, the feast of St. Alexius of Moscow, in compliance with the wishes of the founder of the church Alexius Tolokonnikov. Bishop Ignatius celebrated the All-Night Vigil and the first Liturgy in the new church in concelebration with the Lavra rector, Archimandrite Anthony (Medvedev), the Senior Clergy of the Lavra and the Academy and Archpriest Peter Pokrovsky, a high ranking Moscow-based clergyman.

At the end of the Divine Liturgy, the rector of the Academy Archpriest Alexander Gorsky preached a homily on the words of Psalm 93 (92): "holiness becometh thy house, O Lord, unto length of days". He talked about to the Hall where the Academy's new house church was built and consecrated. "This temple, - said the rector, - by the very Providence of God was in preparation for its present purpose all these years. Previously, Word of God was explained in here, dogmas of the Orthodox faith and the rules of Christian morality were taught, the history of the Church of Christ was recounted. Then it was used mainly for the general home prayer... Finally, the long desired moment came: the temple of teaching and prayer turned into a temple of God. Now the Lord Himself has come here by grace; here He is invisibly present between us.


Inside view of the church in 1892-1913

The Academy Church built under Professor Archpriest Alexander Gorsky, existed for 22 years in its original form. Metropolitan Leontius (Lebedinsky) during his first visit to the Academy in January 1892 noticed that the church was too small. In the same year, taking the advice of the Metropolitan, the Rector Archimandrite Anthony (Khrapovitsky), undertook a complete restructuring of the Academy church, with the altar facing east.

Work began on June 4, 1892. By autumn, a new gilded cupola topped with a cross towered over the dense trees of the Academy garden. Elegant gates decorated with beautiful carving showed the pilgrims the way to the Academy temple. A wide alley led to the painted stone porch of the ancient Czar's quarters. Extensive porches and a cast iron staircase leading to the church doors were rebuilt. The altar was moved to the annex on the eastern side and the space of the temple almost doubled.

The reconstructed church was consecrated by Metropolitan Leontius himself on September 20, 1892. At the end of the Divine Liturgy, the Metropolitan spoke and wished that the celebration of the temple consecration would inspire students to renew and sanctify the spirit.

Venerating the renewal...

The temple, reconstructed under Metropolitan Leontius and the Rector Archimandrite Anthony, existed for 21 years. During this period, the Academy was increasingly headed by rectors in the rank of bishop (with the title of Volokolamsk). The academic services became more solemn and the number of pilgrims increased. At the beginning of the twentieth century, voices began to be heard again, calling for an another enlargement of the Academic Church. By the centenary of the Academy in the Lavra it was decided to rebuild it for the third time.

The temple, rebuilt under Metropolitan Leontius and Rector Antony, has existed for 21 years. During this period, the Academy was increasingly headed by rectors in the rank of bishop (with the title of Volokolamsk). The services at the Academy became more solemn and the number of pilgrims increased. At the beginning of the twentieth century, voices began to be heard again, calling for an increase in the Academic Church. By the centenary of the Academy in the Lavra it was decided to rebuild it for the third time.


Inside view of the Academic temple after a reconstruction in 1913

The next day, Bishop Theodore celebrated a Divine Liturgy and a Thanksgiving moleben in the renovated church, before which the inspector of the Academy, Archimandrite Hilarion (Troitsky), uttered a heartfelt speech. He said: "Every institution is glorious insofar as it justifies the purpose for which it exists. The goal of the Academy is clear and definite: to give enlightened ministers to the Church ... The special glory of the Academy church is the fact that the Academy Church helps the Academy to justify its purpose".

The reconstruction in 1913 gave the Academy Church an incomparably more majestic appearance. In 1914 it was painted by artists S. S. Makarov and N. A. Protopopopov with reference to the frescoes of V. M. Vasnetsov in the Kievan St. Vladimir's Cathedral. At the same time, a luxurious three-tier iconostasis was made. Above the Royal Doors in the third tier there was an icon of the Protection of the Holy Mother of God in a gilded cover surrounded by metal rays. A small golden cross towered over the icon, and an ever-burning lampas burning in front of it. This icon, according to the Athos custom, was lifted up during the acathistus. The temple was decorated with four chandeliers. The central one - in the form of a huge wide ring - was crowned with a stylized crown.

The reopening of the temple

In 1919, after the closure of the Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra and the Academy, a parish was formed at the Academy Church, which was soon transferred to the Church of St. John the Baptist above the Holy Gate, and then to the Pyatnitsky and Vvedensky Churches near the Lavra. A city club was established in the former Academy church.

In 1948, the revived Academy moved from Moscow to the Lavra, and in 1954, the Academy received back its the Pokrovsky church, which required major repairs. Restoration works began on December 30, 1954. His Holiness Patriarch Alexius I was interested in literally everything that related to the revival of the place of worship. His care allowed the temple to be renovated in record speed - construction works were completed in May 1955. The consecration took place on May 21. On the eve, the rector Archpriest Konstantin Ruzhitsky in concelebration with other academic clergy celebrated the All-Night-Vigil and a Blessing of the waters. The next day His Holiness Patriarch Alexius I arrived at the Academy. Immediately after the service of consecration the first Divine Liturgy began.


The altar of the Academy church during renovation works in 1955

At the end of the Liturgy, the Patriarch gave a speech in which he said: "I think I won't be erring if I said with conviction that all of you here standing played a significant part in this services to God, for which this gift was sent to us - the restoration of this house of God. You have come here, to this temple of theological pursuit with zeal to the work for God: some - to teach, others - to study the Word of God and the truths of our faith, you gave yourself to this work with all earnestness, and time has shown that the Lord has blessed your work, because the life of our theological school runs successfully...".

After the renewal, the temple was decorated with frescoes between 1955 and 1965. On the night of September 27 to 28, 1986, the Academy was hit by a terrible disaster - a fire. The temple was also damaged by the fire. Subsequently, the dome was replaced, the damaged frescoes removed, and the temple was redecorated anew by the apprentices of Nun Juliana (Sokolova; †1981) from 1987 to 1990.

The beauty of God's house

Everyone who enters the Academy church nowadays is imbued with its splendor. Ancient icons, icons of the modern time and wall frescoes have merged into a marvelous harmony here. The iconostasis, which is somewhat unusual, solemn and slender, unfailingly attracts the attention of those coming to the temple for prayer. It is rather difficult for the uninitiated to recognize what here was painted in our time and what is created by icon painters of the distant past.

The iconostasis of the Church of St. Chariton (destroyed in 1935 in Moscow) was reconstructed in the Lavra and contains a number of ancient icons worthy of close attention and study. Several icons of the festive tier are painted by the nun Juliana. She also painted the full-length icons of the archdeacons Stephan and Lawrence, which are on the deacon doors, the icon of the Penitent Thief and the icons for the Royal Doors.

The huge arch of the Academic Church is decorated with images of events related to the earthly life of the Theotokos. Four evangelists are also depicted here. The text of the hymn "It is truly meet" runs along the base of the temple vault. In the upper part of the eastern wall of the temple there is a depiction of the Blessed Virgin with an extended Veil (Protection), on the southern and northern walls there are prophets with scrolls and prototypes of the Mother of God. The western wall is decorated with images of Russian saints, and in the upper part is a depiction the Mother of God and the apostles Peter and John appearing to St. Sergius.

"Holiness becometh thy house, O Lord, unto length of days," said Archpriest Alexander Gorsky in the words of the Psalmist, at the consecration of the Academy Church in 1870. For 135 years the holiness of the altar of the Lord has been illuminating the house of the highest theological doctrine. The names of the deceased temple-builders will be commemorated as long as the Academy Temple remains a house of prayers offered before the Throne of God, and the sanctuary of this house of the Lord will always sanctify our souls and strengthen us in preparation for the service of the Holy Church of Christ.

Author: Hierodeacon Ephrem (Prosyanok)

Hieromonk Barnabas (Losev)

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